Low Stress Livestock Management Hands-On Skill Building workshops

Progress report for FNC20-1244

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $25,275.00
Projected End Date: 01/31/2022
Grant Recipient: Clearfield Stockdogs and Lamb
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Project Coordinator:
Denice Rackley
Clearfield Stockdogs and Lamb
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Project Information

Description of operation:

The farm is 100 acres - 40 tillable that is rented for crops, 30 wooded in a conservation/wildlife habitat with the remaining land pasture, homestead, and pond. The pasture has been rotationally grazed with portable fencing. The crop aftermath is also grazed sparingly in the fall. Ewes are lambed in April on pasture then moved to a fresh pasture as they lamb. Grazing rotation typically begins May 1. Working dogs are used in all livestock management from lambing, grazing, treatment of animals in pasture and barn facility, loading, feeding. I have had sheep for about 28 years and working dogs for 21 years.

We cover the foundational low stress management techniques helping livestock managers understand how livestock think, feel, move and what motivates them. We also cover foundational training on stock dogs using the dogs instincts to help with management tasks however each workshop is tailored to the individuals attending. We keep the group small enough to enable individual instruction to assist the handler/dog team meeting them where they are in their training/working journey and giving them the information need to progress. We understand no two dogs, people or operations are identical and every dog/handler learns a bit differently. By providing instruction in a group setting people are able to pick up information they need now and info they will use later or with another dog. Each day handlers internalize different core elements that they need but there is no way to predict what AHH moments each will have. By presenting the info in a variety of ways we optimize the chance of getting the information across. Our goal is to give them enough pieces and basic understanding to build a firm foundation that benefits them, their operation, and their stock.


I propose multiple hands-on skill workshops with bi-monthly newsletters and skill-building days to increase the knowledge and skills of low-stress handling of livestock with and without stockdogs. Livestock producers can increase their productivity and efficiency by understanding how stock move and think and mastering stockdog handling. Incorporating well-trained stockdogs that are capable of assisting in all areas of stock management requires continual learning, for both the person and the dog. This ongoing journey enables one person to increase the number of livestock managed, decrease the need for extensive infrastructure, and save time required for daily upkeep of stock and equipment.  Marginal and hard to access land can be utilized and improved by rotational grazing because stockdogs enable simple, quick movement of livestock through rough terrain or unfenced areas providing many opportunities not before available which limits need for mowing, herbicides, distributes manure and improves soil health.

 Workshops provide networking opportunities to exchange management information, support each other and opportunities to sell stock.

Project Objectives:

This project will reduce the cost of multiple continued learning opportunities to enhance low-stress livestock management knowledge and handling skills; with and without stockdogs. Increasing producers understanding of handling techniques and use of herding dogs assisting with stock management enables producers to better utilize their land, improve soils, overcome unique constraints allowing them to expand their operation, save them time, money, and stress while benefiting from the support of a like-minded community of livestock producers. Bimonthly newsletters centered on stockdog training / use and low-stress handling stock will enhance workshops, provide continued learning, address questions, and provide encouragement and support.


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Materials and methods:

Hands-On Learning  Herding dogs will be worked in either a round pen, small paddock or pasture depending on skill level of dog and handler. Each team will be assessed to understand where their strengths and challenges lie then help will be given to improve needed skills. Each team will work twice a day practicing new skills during workshops and skill-building days so they are confident and comfortable repeating those skills at home. Workshops will be 3 consecutive days spring and fall with one-day skill-building opportunities offered monthly. I have been holding clinics for 10 years and this format works well.

Evident with the first SARE grant, livestock producers need separate instruction concerning how livestock think and move which will enable better handling of stock with and without a dog’s assistance. Livestock handling techniques will be discussed, demonstrated, and practiced. Demonstration and hands-on learning (without a dog) will be used with ewes and ewes and lambs and a small herd performing routine needed management skills such as tagging, banding, medicating, moving through pastures, into pens, and through working alley. Once handlers and their dogs have an adequate skill level they will work together to perform management tasks.

There is not a publication dedicated to understanding stock and herding dogs at this time. Most information about using dogs on stock is misinterpreted, misunderstood and given by inexperienced stockpersons or inexperienced herding trainers.

Newsletters will be produced giving a wide range of instruction, information, and checklists from a variety of well-known handlers/trainers/ stockmen to help readers understand communication between the dog, stock and themselves and assist them in continual forward progression and skill-building.

My home raised ewes and lambs will be used for this project because they understand how to move off dogs calmly and quietly.


Participation Summary
3 Farmers participating in research

Educational & Outreach Activities

15 Consultations
2 On-farm demonstrations
8 Workshop field days

Participation Summary:

50 Farmers
3 Ag professionals participated
Education/outreach description:

COVID restrictions in 2020 did impact the workshops. State restrictions mandated that we cancel the Spring 2020 workshop in April. However, easing of mandates allowed us to hold a smaller version of the clinic in June. All indications pointed toward Covid continuing to influence travel for the foreseeable future so we opted to proceed with a more local gathering and stock dog clinic in June and October 2020. Everything was held outdoors and socially distanced allowing people to remain safe and give them a much need mental break from the pandemic. Our June clinic had 15 in attendance with dogs, October had 25 people attending. Additional effort was made to follow up with everyone personally by phone to answer questions and address training challenges faced in the months following the clinics. Videos were posted online to stimulate discussion and newsletters were sent. I believe the pandemic fatigue and challenges limited the time people wanted to invest in more online training and time in 2020, hopefully, we will have more interaction this year using virtual methods since life is returning to more of a normal routine.

Once restrictions were lifted we also continued with the monthly gatherings offered. Attendance remained strong within the surrounding states' farming/stock dog community for these sessions.

Learning Outcomes

Lessons Learned:

The spring 2021 clinic is scheduled for April 30 - May 2 with 18 registered participants to date. We are planning to add a puppy training discussions to enable those attending gain an understanding of how best to raise and begin training of young dogs. We are also adding a low stress demo where we are asking people to move stock without the help of dogs to better understand livestock behavior and how our movement influences stock. 

Project Outcomes

15 Farmers changed or adopted a practice
Success stories:

In fall of 2020 we added an obstacle course that simulated farm chores. The participants were asked to move sheep with their dogs help through gates, panels, and into a pen. This allowed people to identify weaknesses in their handling and training skills and come away with an increased appreciation for paying attention to the stock. Many said this was an eye opening experience for them.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.